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Using Virtual Public Involvement to Accelerate Project Delivery

In This Article:
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Transportation agencies conduct outreach to inform the public about plans and projects and to gather feedback about residents experiences or concerns, often through in-person meetings. Virtual public involvement includes a range of methods that do not require face-to-face contact. With opportunities to engage online or at any time, virtual public involvement can make it easier for more people to engage in regional plans, corridor studies, or project-specific efforts.

Types of Virtual Public Involvement

The Federal High Administration (FHWA) provides fact sheets, videos, recorded webinar presentations, and peer exchange materials on a variety of virtual public involvement methods, including:

Map of continental United States with location markers indicating locations of projects winning the National Association of Development Organizations Impact Award in 2020. Mapping tools are one set of virtual public involvement tools.
Mapping tools, such as Story Maps, are one tool that can be used with virtual public engagement. Image courtesy NADO RF.
  • Mobile Applications
  • Project Visualizations
  • Do-It-Yourself Videos
  • Crowdsourcing Tools
  • Virtual Town Halls
  • Mapping Tools
  • All-in-One Tools
  • Digital Tools to Enhance In-Person Events

Benefits of Engagement

Using these tools can enhance Planning Environment Linkages (PEL).  PEL uses information developed in the planning process to shape the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process.  PEL can include conducting robust community engagement early in the planning process.  This helps agencies identify and respond to community concerns.  Ultimately, a high level of engagement can lead to faster and less costly project implementation by avoiding those concerns.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused sudden challenges to holding public meetings. However, many agencies were already expanding their use of engagement tools before that.  In addition, there are residents in every community that often have a hard time getting to in-person meetings. Whether due to time, distance, accessibility, language or transportation barriers, family or work responsibilities, many people experience barriers even when there are no public health emergencies.  Virtual public involvement tools can improve equity in accessing engagement opportunities and influencing a planning process.  As a result, using these tools can be tied in with PEL. For example, early and broad engagement can help with identifying project purpose and need or identifying possible project alternatives (or eliminating some) early on.

Resources

For more information on PEL, visit https://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/env_initiatives/PEL.aspx.  To learn more about virtual public involvement, visit https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/public_involvement/vpi/

Additional Resources

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